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The Women’s Junior All-Americans (WJAAs) will contest their second and final Tri-Nations match Tuesday, Aug. 17, against the England U20s in Nova Scotia. The USA age-grade team lost its opener 36-12 to Canada on Aug. 10. Watch it live at 5:30 p.m. Eastern.
Last Tuesday’s game marked James English’s first outing as WJAA head coach, and he leads a squad that ranges from All-American first-timers, to those with senior club-level experience, to capped Eagles. The players and staff had two days to ready for the Canada fixture.
“We were pretty pleased with a lot of the elements of the game,” English said. “This really was about getting a benchmark of where we’re at and where we need to go.
“The team played with intent and purpose, and tried to play with tempo and pace. Off the back of that, they created a lot of opportunities that we didn’t always execute as we would have liked,” English continued. “But it’s a new group that had a couple of days together, and Canada exploited and capitalized on those mistakes we made.”
The team has had a week to recover, regroup and build rapport, and when the squad wasn’t working on the principles of the game, it was building those off-field connections hiking or barbecuing together.
New USA 15s head coach Rob Cain has been part of the process as well. He’s in Nova Scotia working with the WJAA staff, and the Tri-Nations assembly has been structured like a senior national team long camp.
“The idea is to give players a taste of what it’s like to be in senior camp, so they can adjust quicker when they make that transition. And that’s really important,” English said. “There are one or two players with experience in this kind of environment and for this long. It’s a skill in itself and they have to get used to that.”
Cain’s helping align the All-American program with the senior level, and also getting a look at the players who could pressure for Rugby World Cup 2021 invites.
“He’s identifying where the strengths are and where there are opportunities to develop a bit further,” English said of Cain’s presence in Canada. “Rob has been working on the set piece, the scrum. At the U18 level and that pathway, there’s a fair bit of investment with 7s and the Youth Olympic Games. We see the development of the front five as really important moving forward. Rob has experience and expertise there, which is fantastic, especially for the front five. And he has a great manner and relates well to players. It’s been a fun tour so far.”
England U20s are up next, and a handful of capped senior internationals distinguished themselves in the team’s 36-22 win over Canada last week. A tough test awaits the Americans, but English indicated the players are eager to take the pitch and gauge themselves against one of the best teams in the world.
“We’re really trying to encourage them to try new things and take risks and express themselves as players,” English said. “We want to challenge players to not pay so much attention to the numbers on their backs and just make decisions and play what’s in front of them. I’m happy with how they’ve responded so far.”
Some new combinations will take the pitch Tuesday, some planned, some due to injury. Sui A’au, one of the team’s more experienced backs, will miss the game, as will Aniya Matina, “a young promising back row out of high school,” per English, who is heading to Lindenwood University this season.
This second match will also help Cain, English and staff better understand where players might project position-wise in the future. Ideally, more WJAA domestic and international fixtures will be added to calendar, so the next class of Eagles can test themselves more frequently than every other year. According to English, it’s an objective for Cain and the pathway.